SELECT ALL. MOVE TO NEW FOLDER. That was my cheat move on January 1, 2017 after I failed to implement my regular annual actions within my email boxes.
See, unlike most people I know I have spent a number of years channeling the bulk of my work to my email inbox.
I started doing this when I realized that it was far more convenient to handle things on email than in face-to-face meetings or using the other computer applications (back then they were called programmes) we have at our disposal.
To this day I get a little irritated by people who create Microsoft Word attachments containing text that could just as appropriately be conveyed within the body of an email.
They are almost as bad as the people who send you an email asking you to share information with someone else in the office or within your networks whose email address they also have.
The email etiquette conversation will take place later.
The point here is that I took a hard position and ‘strongly encouraged’ everyone I had work discussions with to “send me an email” or “start an email thread” or “copy me into the email on that”.
The plan was simple and has worked well so far. Get all work sent to my email inbox(es). Tackle it there in writing and on record. File it away appropriately. Check back on it when the subject issue returns.
It has worked quite well so far.
The formula is quite simple but effective. My task is simply to read my emails in order to resolve all work issues. Every email that lands stays in my inbox until it is acted upon. Once I have tackled it (either by delegating, acting, responding or even plain ignoring or deleting), then I move it into its relevant folder.
(I even found a discussion I got involved in about this from a 2012 post elsewhere – https://goo.gl/56x2oa)
This is a crucial modus operandi for a person like me who doesn’t have just the one job with one email address. There are some assignments that I take on that come with their own email addresses, and people that I deal with who have more than one email address against my name.
So I expend quite a bit of effort to keep all emails channeled to the correct email address. When a client sends a work issue to my personal @gmail.com address, for instance, I will forward it to my work email address and then reply to the client using that.
I have even gone as far as telling some people to delete the ‘wrong’ email address if I notice they are persisting with it.
My end of day rule, with all this, is to ensure that I don’t have more than one hundred (100) emails in any inbox by the time I go to bed. That number is rather high, but if you’ve ever gone a week on upcountry travel without regular email access you can understand how they could accumulate.
Luckily, those emails also include the forwards, personal messages and subscriptions that churn out all manner of notifications, alerts and so on and so forth.
After that, I have an end of year rule as well – I must start the year out with ZERO (0) emails in all of my inboxes.
The end of day rule normally has me sitting at my home desk clicking away and shuffling things about, while the end of year one makes my last week of the year rather frantic because of the massive accumulation that tends to occur during the last quarter of the year.
If I didn’t break the end of day rule along the way, I would find it easy to deal with the end of year rule.
Since I use Google Suite (what we used to call Google Apps for Business), it makes it easier for me to stick to my rules. I have email display settings that show me only 50 messages, so my easy target is to only have one page of emails displayed.
But this year, I had to cheat. It was a bit too much to handle because most of the emails included meeting minutes that had to be read and corrected, and reports that needed reading and responding to, and full blown pamphlets that required analysis and, again, responses.
I spent three hours and realized I was still at 1,700 emails. Mind you, these are not unread emails, they are just the ones that were still in my inbox, meaning they were unhanded.
Frazzled and jittery about breaking that major end of year rule, I took inspiration from one of my favorite work desk experiences.
I had walked over to the desk of a colleague from Argentina, Pedro, and found him looking at his computer screen quite intently while scrolling through a red list of emails. We used Lotus Notes back then and it was quite flat, uninspiring and even annoying.
Pedro wasn’t reading the emails. He was just looking at them. And then, while chatting with me, he started deleting them in batches.
I was flabbergasted. How could he do that?
“They are useless to me,” he explained.
If any of the issues there had been urgent or serious, he said, someone would have either picked up the phone or walked over to his desk.
“I’m a field guy and they know it – I cannot be expected to be reading emails!”
I ignored that last bit but took inspiration from the first part. If an issue were urgent, then the person who emailed me about it in August would have sent a follow up message or something – surely. So on January 1, 2017 I just cleaned out and put all those emails into a new folder titled, ‘Old Mail To Be Handled’.
And I am going to handle them day by day going backwards from December 31, 2016 till I just give up on realizing that the issues might not be urgent any more.